Gearing Up to Get An Agent Blog Hop

This is for the blog hop through Deana Barnhart’s Gearing Up to Get an Agent contest. For those of you who have no clue what I’m talking about, you can find details on the contest here. If you’re querying or getting ready to query agents, this contest is for YOU.

Hi! I’m Beth, and I’m one of the 1st round judges for the agent contest. I live in northern California with my husband (code name: Homes), two kids (daughter Z, age 4, and son Maverick, age 4 months), and cat. I write YA and am represented by Brandi Bowles of Foundry Literary + Media. I like to draw silly pictures with Paint, like the one below. (Okay, I was just looking for an excuse to reuse this drawing. I love it so. The goats!)

Where do you write?
Everywhere. I’ve got a little baby, so usually on the couch. Before he came along, I’d work in the Love Shack, part of our garage that we converted into a guest room/writing studio.
Quick. Go to your writing space, sit down and look to your left. What is the first thing you see?
First thing to the left in the Love Shack is the windowed door, looking out to the back yard.
Favorite time to write?
Mornings, afternoons, night…anytime I can find. Ideally I’d do all drafting in the mornings after a quiet half-hour for morning pages, then revise in the afternoons. But in addition to the baby, I have a four-year-old. So that hasn’t happened in about…four years.
Drink of choice while writing?
Water, if anything. Tea when it’s cold outside. But then I get distracted, wanting to drink the tea before it gets tepid, which totally grosses me out, and then I’m worried more about my tea than the crazy-making plot holes.

The tall iced decaf caramel macchiato I was sipping while I checked my email on that fateful day.

When writing , do you listen to music or do you need complete silence?
Complete silence! I’m talking to YOU, YAPPY DOGS NEXT DOOR.
What was your inspiration for your latest manuscript and where did you find it?
The one going out on submission soon was inspired by a dream. The last one I wrote was inspired by Karen Russell’s wacky premises in St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. It was meant to be a short story (like hers) but kept going.
What’s your most valuable writing tip?
If you love it, never stop. Forget about publication. Seriously. Forget about it. Just write, and love it, love it even when you’re tearing your hair out because that plot hole just won’t fill.

Click here to join in, and find other participants on the linky list at Deana Barnhart’s blog.

How I Got My Agent, Part Dos

The first part of the story is here.

Writer friend PB Rippey assured me last Friday’s post was not too detailed on the finding-an-agent topic. So I shall soldier on.

The next day Brandi and I spoke on the phone, and she was just as enthusiastic as she’d been in her email. She shared her ideas for revision, which I liked, and asked about my plans for the sequel. Whoops. Other than some scrawled brainstorming in my diary, I had no plans. But she took that in stride, and listened to my incoherent babbling about the brainstorming.

Actually, my diary looks way worse.

I asked for a week to let the other open queries know about her offer so they could make their decisions. I was thinking the agent who’d given me the revise & resubmit request might offer. Alas, it was during BEA, and that agent was too busy to read my revisions. She also didn’t ask for more time, which makes me think she might have been less enthusiastic about my book, and enthusiasm is a big piece of the Agent Pie – I want someone who loves my book so much they just can’t wait.

Brandi gave me two references, and both of them raved about her. (You can meet one of them, Oksana Marafioti, in her interview here.)

By the middle of the week, I was convinced Brandi was the one, and I got a little cranky waiting to hear back from the last two agents because I just wanted to email Brandi right away to say yes. But I’m kind of a rule-follower, and if I tell someone they have a week, I feel like I ought to give them the whole week.

Finally, it was time! I took a deep breath, drafted an email to Brandi, proofread it maybe a dozen times (I proofread nearly everything, but missives to agents get multiple proofreads, and sometimes need to be vetted by author friends before being sent. I am nothing if not paranoid careful).

So now we’re working together! Brandi promised a list of edits by the beginning of July, and by golly, she sent them. And they’re great – really making my book stronger. While I think about her questions I’m getting tons of ideas for the next book (yeah, more scribbling in my diary), so this is working.

I’m working. Even with the little tiny baby and the preschooler with me all day. The minutes I steal during not-so-quiet playtime are precious, and then when it’s time to get back to momming, I get back to it, refreshed and ready to read “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” and Babybug magazine all over again.

Revision notes – mine, not Brandi’s.

Yes, getting an agent is only part of the road to publication. There’re more challenges to come. But finding an agent – and not just any agent, but one I chose two years ago – is a dream made real.

—-

Not enough success story? You can head over to Miss Snark’s First Victim and see yet one more iteration there. Because the fun never ends! (Actually, I think that’s all. Until Brandi sells my book.)

How I Got My Agent, Part 1

Okay, so details (by popular demand. Okay, two friends asked me to do this. And they’re very popular).

Everything you ever wanted to know about my finding-an-agent story, and probably a few things you care nothing about. (I’m stretching it out because I love reading long “How I Got My Agent” posts. I could just live in ’em.)

The tall iced decaf caramel macchiato I was sipping while I checked my email on that fateful day.

First, this is not my first completed novel, nor my second. It is my third. And I half-heartedly queried the first two manuscripts. No, that’s not true. I zealously queried the first and suffered roughly ten rejections, all of which, if they said anything helpful at all, said, “This premise is overdone.” So I scrapped that book. The second manuscript garnered a couple of partial requests, and I started dreaming of how I’d want to look in my author cameo in the movie version of the book. (Especially in light of the fact that the advance from selling the book would be enough to hire ten personal trainers and I’d not only be twenty pounds lighter but also super-toned.)

Alas, no.

So it was with excitement, yes, but a heavy dose of cynicism that I started querying in December. At the urging of my (fabulous – she made me say that but it’s totally deserved) friend Kristen, I entered the Baker’s Dozen contest on Miss Snark’s First Victim’s blog. My excerpt received a full request, and a few other agents were interested, so that jump-started the query process (and smothered some of my cynicism). Two friends referred me to their agents as well. None of that panned out, and I was very sad, but I kept querying. I got a few more full & partial requests, but no takers.

I considered the very short nuggets of feedback a couple of agents gave me, especially in two areas: plot & pacing. I revised the first half of the second act of my book (eternal thanks to Katherine Longshore for the marathon brainstorming session), took out a subplot and a supporting character, then queried more. One agent gave me a reader’s report with revision suggestions, and I did those, too.

Brandi Bowles, with Foundry Literary + Media, was a cold query – I didn’t know much about her, other than an interview I read on Krista Van Dolzer’s blog two years ago. After reading that interview, I immediately added Brandi to my Giant Table o’ Agents. What I liked about her: she likes urban fantasy and literary fiction. In my head I’d been pitching my book as Earth Abides by George R. Stewart meets The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood meets witches. I love lyrical prose with a commercial appeal, and Brandi’s tastes reflected that. (And yes I know I’m flattering myself way more than is deserved with the Margaret Atwood connection, but she is my writer-idol, after all.)

Sample of my Giant Table o’ Agents – I’d highlight requests in bright blue, rejections in red. It took me awhile to decide on a color for the offer. Can’t go wrong with hot pink, though.

A month after querying Brandi, she requested the full. I went slightly nuts, but maybe not as crazy as I could’ve been, because I’d had a baby five days before. What was really cool: Maverick distracted me from worrying. I sort of forgot about querying and submissions in the haze of new-baby-ness.

So it was with great surprise that a month later, I received the email every writer dreams of, from a super-awesome agent who told me how much she loved my book, and offered me representation.

There was gasping. I couldn’t scream, because my one-month-old was sleeping in the next room, and nothing puts a damper on celebratory jigs like a cranky newborn. I am so glad I got Brandi’s email on Memorial Day, because Homes was home and I could share the news immediately.

The sunglass smiley is the cool icon you get when you record an “offer” on querytracker.net.

This post is already too long. So, next week…The Call.

NiFtY Interview with Josh Fernandez

Kato Peruses an Author Contract (Oh if only my Clarkie could do the same!)

For my second-ever Not-Famous-Yet Author Interview, here is Josh Fernandez. He’s an amazing writer with a hilarious, irreverent voice, and he has a book of poetry coming out this fall. It seems I’ve snagged him for this interview just before his jump into fame. Okay, so publication does not equal instant fame. For instance, I, like many other people, still have no idea who wrote that weird Twilight book.

BH: What’s your one-paragraph pitch for Stickup Kid?
JF: Buy it or I’ll murder you! No, it’s an exciting little story about a small half-Mexican, half-Caucasian kid named Bear who lives with his mom in Brookline, a very Jewish suburb of Boston. One day Bear separates from his class while they’re on a field trip and he meets a man named Stoop. Bear runs away from home and finds Stoop, who takes him in and teaches the naïve boy about his Latin heritage, but he also teaches him the art of being a stickup kid—a purse-snatcher, a robber, a thief …

BH: You’re one of the few people I know who actually makes a living from his writing. What do you write to pay the bills?
JF: I write mostly arts and culture stories. I write for Spin.com, Sacramento News & Review, Boulder Weekly and some other papers that are scattered throughout our glorious country.

BH: How do you think your nonfiction writing influences your fiction, if at all?
JF: Non-fiction writing has helped me write fiction in a number of ways. It’s really helped me find a voice. My goal when writing for newspapers isn’t to be a solid journalist; my goal is to simply entertain the reader. I get a lot of hate mail. News writing has also helped me find the focus of whatever I’m writing. Nobody wants to read a long, blathering story, except for my grandpa. But he could barely read. And I think he was just pretending to read, trying to escape my grandma. RIP, gramps.

I also write poetry, which helps with everything except for money. Although, I just signed a contract with R.L. Crow press. They are going to publish my first full-length collection of poems, tentatively titled Dancing to Genocide. It should be out in the fall.

BH: What is your writing schedule like?
JF:  I’ve never really had one until I started writing Stickup Kid. I’d kind of just write when I felt like writing, which kind of ended up being all the time. But for the novel I got up every morning at 8, went to the coffee shop and wrote until 2 or 3. It was important that I did that because I have a tendency to stay in my underwear all day and watch YouTube videos of high school kids getting hit in the nuts with various objects.

BH: Voice is one of the aspects of Stickup Kid’s beginning that I admired the most. It’s also a quality all writers are after, and something which confuses many beginning writers. Do you have any tips to share on how to cultivate voice?
JF: I think basically you have to just have a voice. Sometimes I teach a writing class at Sacramento City College and I ask the students if they ever have thoughts that pass through their heads that they’d never tell anyone because they seem weird or sick. They always say “Yes.” Then I tell them to take those thoughts, write them down and then throw away everything else. And then they don’t say anything. Because they’re all asleep. Because I’m really boring. The point is, you just have to be unafraid to grab the core of who you are and put it down on a page. Nobody wants to read the outer part of you that’s been influenced by the outside world. That’s already been done. People need to read the inner you. That’s very new age. I learned that from Yanni.

BH: Your blog title “I Know, I Hate Blogs Too!” just begs me to ask what it is you hate about blogs. So, what do you hate about blogs?
JF: I don’t hate blogs. I just hate bloggers. Ha! I am a blogger, so what does that say? Really, it’s just the journalist in me that hates the idea of people who don’t get paid taking our jobs because they offer their blogging service for free. There’s so much bad journalism now because of this idea that “anyone can be a writer!” It’s the same with self-publishing. Anyone can say, “I’m a published author!” and then be a writer, while the rest of us who are actually trying to write stuff that people will read get left in the dust. Basically, I’m saying “Waaaaah!” But in more words.

BH: Since I started my own website/blog, I discovered roughly 167,738,744 other writer blogs and websites. Are you an island or do you frequent anyone else’s?
JF: Oh I read blogs all the time. I kind of just cruise around to see what other people are doing. I can’t really think of any off the top of my head, though.

BH: Can you compare Bear, the main character in Stickup Kid, to anyone you know in real life?
JF: I based a lot of Bear off my own life. And I took parts of friends from childhood and put them into his character. There are a lot of things that happened to me that also happened to Bear. All the good, heroic things were me. The horrible and twisted stuff was, um, my friends. Yeah.

BH: What does your writing workspace look like?

JF: Pictures! We have a spare bedroom that we made into an office. It’s good to have an office without a TV. I’d never get anything done with the possibility of Judge Judy lurking nearby.

BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?
JF: I really like Robert Pinsky’s The Sounds of Poetry. It allows you look at words in an entirely new perspective. The first time I read the book it made me a little insane. I had no idea words were that delicate.

BH: Last we spoke about it, you were revising Stickup Kid with an agent’s guidance. Where are you in the process? Have you signed a contract with that agent?
JF: I’m editing it right now. When I’m done I’ll hand it over. They want the cleanest copy I can make. After that, if they like it, which hopefully they will, actually, I don’t know what happens after that.

BH: How did you & the agent originally connect?
JF: Luck! I set up my website and one of their interns happened to click on it. He read the part that mentioned I was writing a book and he told me to send the first 20 pages. So I did.

BH: What is the best writing advice anyone has given you?
JF: It was something about a bow. It was like: make your paragraph like a bow, tight enough so that when you pluck it it will resonate with the perfect pitch. Crap, no, that wasn’t it. I get a lot of great writing advice, but then I forget everything. My mind is small.

BH: Do you “tweet”?
JF: Yes. I was totally against it, but then I realized that it was another way to get my stories out there so I’m getting used to twitter.

BH: Why do you want to be published?
JF: That’s a great question. It’s all a blur now. I’ve been mulling the story of Stickup Kid in my mind for so long that I just wanted to get it out. I really like the story and I honestly think that other people will like it. I like to write stuff that I like to read. I kind of want to see if other people like the same stuff that I do.

Here's the feature image without Josh's forehead cut off. I spent at least an hour trying to fix the feature image. Sorry, Josh. Love the bunny.

BH: Any words on advice to other writers for keeping the hope alive?
JF: Writing isn’t a very hopeful profession. I think it’s a great hobby, but there’s a lot of heartache and rejection in the world of writing. I am the kind of person who expects to be rejected, so when I’m not I feel like I’ve tricked someone. It’s great. Not all people are like that, though. A lot of people expect to be published and expect people to gush over their writing. And when they don’t get published they blame everyone else. It can’t be like that. You have to pay a ton of dues, and when you’re done paying dues, you have to stand there while people dangle pink slips in front of your face that say “We’re sorry, Mr. Fernandez, but we regret to inform you that your story isn’t what we were looking for …”.  Man, that was like the least hopeful thing I’ve ever said. Sorry. I’ll just say: Keep the hope alive!

There you have it, folks! Words from very-nearly-famous author Josh Fernandez. When he’s famous he’s promised to get us all book deals with his amazing influence. Not really. I’m promising that for him.

Thanks again, Josh, for the interview!

You can check out Josh’s website by clicking here.